In recognition of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, Jason is the third contributor to our weekly D’var Torah (word of Torah) blog post, where guest bloggers link the week’s Torah portion to the theme of inclusion.
There are two models for communal contributions in the Torah. The first appears in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Trumah. God spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites and have them bring Me an offering. Take My offering from everyone whose heart impels him to give. (Shamot 25:1-25:2) The other appears in Parshat Ki Tisa, which we will be reading in a few weeks. God spoke to Moses saying: When you take a census of the Israelites to determine their numbers… Everyone included in the census must give a half shekel…. The rich may not give more, and the poor may not give less than this half shekel…. You will take this atonement money from the Israelites and use it for making the Communion Tent. It will thus be a remembrance for the Israelites before God to atone for your lives. (Shamot 30:11-30:16.)
In Parshat Trumah there was neither an obligation to give materially nor a limit on how much could be given. Each person was instructed to give according to his ability. It is understood that while there were certain things that needed to be collected and constructed, every person had a different capacity. On the other hand, in Parshat Ki Tisa each person must give an identical amount. Furthermore the amount given, a half shekel, signifies that while each person has an identical value in G-d’s eyes, no person can complete the intended task alone.; each of us needs help.
Taken together, these two models suggest that while people have different abilities, everyone can contribute something of value, and are equally important to complete communal tasks. We must expand people’s overall ability by helping them utilize their strengths fully. Understanding that everyone’s contributions have value is important, not only because it effects how a community leverages the ability of the contributor, but also because it impacts the community’s view of itself and its goals, both now and in the future.
The following Medrash conveys this principle beautifully.
According to our tradition, the poor, whose contributions were smaller than other sectors of B’nei Yisroel, did not have either their monetary or physical labor contributions directed to any of the holy vessels described in Parshat Trumah, or to the walls of the holier areas within the Temple. Their smaller donations were used to help erect an outer wall, which could easily be seen as less holy or important because of its relative distance from the Holy of Holies. However, the only remaining piece of the Temple that we have today is part of this wall; The Western Wall is the only wall that has stood through the centuries; it is a wall, which evokes tears from many. If the contributions of those with limited abilities from the days in which our Temple stood can stand the test of time, then we must understand even more so today that even those whose abilities may seem limited can have a powerful and important communal impact if their contributions are valued and they become integrated into the community.
Jason Lieberman received his Masters in Public Administration specializing in Nonprofit Management from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. In addition to serving as a member of the UJA-Federation of New York Task Force on Disability, Jason continues to be a sought-after public speaker on issues relating to disability an Judaism, who has spoken in various venues throughout the United States and abroad. Jason lives in New York City with his wife Emily, son Ruby, and dog Isaac.